THE FUNHOUSE (1981)
LABEL: Arrow Video
REGION CODE: Region FREE
RATING: 15 Certificate
DURATION: 95 mins
AUDIO: DTS 2.0 Stereo with English subtitles
VIDEO: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1)
DIRECTOR: Tobe Hooper
CAST: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Miles Chapin, Jeanne Austin
TAGLINE: Something is alive in The Funhouse!
Filmmaker Tobe Hooper burst onto the scene in a big bad way with the lo-fi grinder THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), a film that to this day punches me in the gut everytime I watch it. His next film, the EC Comics-esque EATEN ALIVE (1974), featured veteran actor Neville Brand (STALAG 17) in a nutty powerhouse performance feeding guests of his dilapidated motel to a flesh-starved gator. Next came the creepy TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT (1979). His star was on the rise but before being tapped by Stephen Spielberg for POLTERGEIST (1982) he would direct the carnie-slasher THE FUNHOUSE (1981) released in a year rife with slashers following the one, two punch of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978) and Sean Cunningham's FRIDAY THE 13th (1980). In '81 alone we saw THE BURNING, THE PROWLER, FRIDAY THE 13th Pt. 2, HALLOWEEN II, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME and MY BLOODY VALENTINE at the cineplex, can there be any doubt it was the greatest year of slashers ever?
Later that night Amy is picked up by gas pumpin' stud Buzz (Cooper Huckabee, THE CURSE), the two are shortly joined by her friend Liz (Largo Woodruff, THE LADIES CLUB) and wise cracking date Richie (Miles Chapin, HOWARD THE DUCK). The foursome drive to a travelling fun fair that's set-up camp just outside of town. Amy's wanna-be Michael Meyers siblings sneaks out of the house mere moments later and hoofs it on foot to the carnival, too. While en route a stranger in a pick-up truck pulls up alongside him, points a shotgun out the window, laughs and drives off, nothing comes of it but it's pretty weird.
Stunned by what they've witnessed the foursome quietly attempt to flee but find they are locked in for the night. While looking for an alternate exit Richie steals money from a strongbox and with no escape found they return to their previous place of hiding. Shortly after Gunther and his father return to the scene of the crime. The creepy carnie's not so much upset that his son's killed someone as he is that it was a carnie and not a local. Conrad devises a plan to blame the death on the locals when he discovers that the money is missing. Assuming that his son has taken the money the father berates the freakish boy until he starts to punch himself in the head repeatedly. Having been worked up into a frenzy Gunther pulls off his mask revealing a seriously fucked-up face that that is a call back to the freakshow the teens visited earlier, also recalling the vicious creature-child Petau from Dario Argento's PHENOMENA (1985) with the addition of ruby red eyes and sharp claws, very decent make-up effects from Craig Reardon (POLTERGEIST). Startled by the disturbing sight Richie accidentally drops a lighter through the floorboards alerting the carnie that prying eyes are upon them, which leads to father and son stalking the nosey teens through the funhouse and killing them one by one.
The first 2/3rd of the film is a pretty fantatstic, well-executed haunted house flick set at the carnival, it's a spooky setting populated by some creepy carnies with impressive set design from Morton Rabinowittz (SALEM'S LOT) and cinematography from Andrew Laslo (THE WARRIORS) which completely sell the film's candy-colored creepiness. The final sequence plays out as more a streamlined formulaic slasher with our final girl Amy, a whimpering mess, is pursued through the funhouse's more and more labyrinthine inner workings by an enraged Gunther with a satisfying final confrontation followed by a fun coda just outside the funhouse.
In 1981 slashers were ramping up the elaborate gore effects but Hooper's THE FUNHOUSE is an oddity in that respect in that he's content to offer up an old school fright film steeped with atmosphere, dread and well-crafted scares. I think this is one of Hooper's most well-directed films and at times it really does feel like a classic Universal horror film, fun stuff. Our four teens are a fun bunch too, Amy being particularly sympathetic.
THE FUNHOUSE is a fantastically entertaining flick that definitely doesn't get it's due, it deserves better and would make for a great Halloween watch this year. If you haven't seen this one you need to jump on it right away and if you're a fan Arrow's Blu-ray is a must-buy.
BLU-RAY: Tobe Hooper's THE FUNHOUSE gets a brand new HD transfer presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) in gorgeous 1080p. The film has NEVER looked better. There's a lot of soft focus cinematography and intended blurring along the edges of frame and as such is not the most stunning, finely detailed Blu-ray presentation you've ever seen but it's sourced from an excellent print with only the most minor of nicks and scratches. The candy-colored visuals are vibrant, black levels are quite good and the film's grain structure is nicely intact.
Audio consists of a lossy DTS 2.0 stereo track that puts forth dialogue, effects and score in a nicely balanced presentation with optional English subtitles. While the audio sounds quite good a losses DTS-HD track would have preferable and I couldn't help but want for a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround presentation. I'm not one to demand every Blu-ray throw in an unwarranted surround mix but the carnival setting and the funhouse in particular really could have benefited from some action in the surrounds.
Now we get to the meat and potatoes of this fine release, the bonus content. At least here in the US the film has languished on a bare bones DVD and Arrow give us not just one, but three commentaries. First is a track from S/FX creator Craig Reardon and Jeffrey Reddick, the latter who created the entertaining THE FINAL DESTINATION films. The second commentary comes from producer Derek Power and film scholar Howard S. Berger. A third commentary features Arrow familiar Calum Waddell and Justin Kerswell, the author of TEENAGE WASTELAND plus the webmaster of the HYSTERIA LIVES website dedicated to all things slasher cinema. Kerswell also co-hosts the terrific HYSTERIA CONTINUES podcast which I just can't say enough great things about, if you love slashers you need to check it out. Informative, entertaining and filled with adoration, fun commentaries. A Tobe Hopper commentary would've been completest but if you've heard the man speak it can be a chore to sit through, no disrespect to the filmmaker, but his monotone commentaries aren't exactly enthralling. Besides, if you wanna hear Hooper discuss the film there's an interview and a Q+A on this set.
Carnage at the Carnival: Tobe Hooper Remembers ‘The Funhouse’ (16:25) wherein the auteur recalls creating the film, setting up the carnival on the Universal back lot, the hand-job scene, the bag lady and mention of the video nasties and the long rumored Eli Roth remake.
Master Class of Horror: Mick Garris (12:55) features the MASTERS OF HORROR series creator reflecting on Hooper's career while also shoeing in his own struggles with creative freedom.
Miles of Mayhem: Acting in Tobe’s Funhouse with star Miles Chapin (21:12) is a fun interview with actor Miles Chapin who portrayed Richie in the film, a character the actor points out is at fault for a lot of what happens in the film. He reflects on working with Hooper, being on the Universal back lot, working with actress Largo Woodruff and actor Wayne Doba and a malfunctioning harness that could have been the end of him.
Trilogy of Terror: The Make-up Madness of Craig Reardon (15:53) features the S/FX creator reflecting on his collaborations with Tobe Hooper from being a titty make-up applicator on EATEN ALIVE, working for S/FX legend Rick Baker on THE FUNHOUSE and being on the set of POLTERGEIST. Reardon does mention that Stephen Spielberg was on set A LOT but doesn't fully commit to imply he was calling the shots.
Live Q+A with Tobe Hooper from San Francisco (20:43) was filmed in San Francisco and moderated by Calum Waddell. It's of very poor quality and features Hooper going on about THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, TCM2 and the possibility of a sequel to THE FUNHOUSE and touching again on the video nasties. It's not a bad watch but the audio/video quality is sub par making it difficult to sit through.
Never before seen behind the scenes photographs from the collection of Craig Reardon (6:43) is a slide show of Reardon's behind-the-scene photos mostly featuring his effects work set to the John Beal score from the film.
Packaging extras begin with four reversible sleeve art options including newly commissioned artwork from Arrow artist extraordinaire Rick Melton who offers up a fantastic panel that really captures the essence of the film, with three alternate panels featuring theatrical one sheets. We also get a two-sided fold-out poster featuring the Melton artwork with a version of the American one sheet on the flip side and a 16 page collectible booklet with new writing on the film from author and film critic Kim Newman plus it reprints eight lobby cards and the Japanese theatrical poster. Arrow's affectionate deluxe edition is a sweet release and at this point is in the running for release of the year, a Blu-ray essential and a slasher classic.
VERDICT: I'm of the opinion that Hooper's really lost his way the past two decades but from '74-'86 he cranked out a winning series of grindhouse, cult and sci-fi films ending with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 and I highly recommend you check 'em out. Arrow Video have really done right by the film with a sweet 1080p HD transfer and some equally fantastic bonus content. Alright Arrow Video, listen up, we need to see Tobe Hooper's stunning space-vampire film LIFEFORCE (1985) get the deluxe 1080p treatment - let's make that happen, shall we?